Ghost Nets


 A hawksbill turtle escaping from a ghost net. Photo: Djawa Yunupingu, Director Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation. Courtesy Carpentaria Ghost Net Programme & Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation.

One of the greatest threats to the isolated coastlines of the Gulf of Carpentaria is Ghost Nets—abandoned fishing nets that wash up on the beaches causing extensive damage to the environment. The Gulf of Carpentaria acts as a catchment for all Ghost Nets from the Indo/Pacific region.

90% of the marine debris is of a fishing nature and originates from all parts of south east Asia. Once the Ghost Nets are in the Gulf, due to the circular current they are stuck in an endless cycle of fishing, getting washed ashore and then washed back into the water during a storm or king tide event.

On the eastern side of the Gulf (western Cape York) the nets arrive during the monsoonal season from November to March while on the western shores the nets get swept in during the south east trade winds mainly between May – September.

Crocodile entangled in an Indonesian trawl net, Aurukun, Qld

A crocodile remains belly-up after being tangled in an Indonesian trawl net.
Photo: Jackie Castellaine, Aurukun Community Council. Courtesy: Carpentaria Ghost Net Programme.

Ghost Nets, or any marine debris, impact upon coastal ecology as well as degrading the the appearance of coastlines. Since 1996, 205 stranded turtles have been recorded on Cape Arnhem alone, including four of the marine turtle species listed as either endangered or vulnerable under Australian legislation. The floating nets also create havoc with navigation and the safe operation of vessels at sea, fouling propellers, rudders and even engine intakes. Over 200 different types of nets have been identified to date.

Ghost nets caught in driftwood, near Aurukun, Qld

Ghost nets and driftwood form a beach sculpture at Amaban, near Aurukun Community.
Photo: Jackie Castellaine, Aurukun Community Council. Courtesy: Carpentaria Ghost Net Programme


The Carpentaria Ghost Net Programme, funded by the Natural Heritage Trust, is operating a "6R" project to: 

  • Remove the Ghost Nets from the Gulf of Carpentaria coastline and waters.
  • Record the numbers, size and location of the Ghost Nets found.
  • Rescue animals trapped in the nets
  • Report about the activities that the community have done to improve people’s awareness about the Ghost Net issue.
  • Reduce the number of Ghost Nets in the Gulf of Carpentaria by working together
  • Research factors that influence the distribution, abundance, movement and impact of Ghost Nets in the Gulf.

Two Project Officers (one for Queensland and one for Northern Territory) work closely with the Indigenous Rangers in developing and implementing annual work plans that detail the how, why, where etc of cleanup and monitoring activities, the equipment, training and other resources they need. On-ground clean ups are the responsibility of Indigenous ranger and community groups (see map below.) These communities are represented on the Steering Committee, along with non-government organisations. Government agencies are involved in Steering Committee meetings in an advisory role.

Location of Indigenous Ranger Organisations &/or communities participating in the Carpentaria Ghost Net Programme

This map show the location of Indigenous Ranger Organisations &/or communities participating in the project